Home Articles Interoperability, standards, and the geospatial industry

Interoperability, standards, and the geospatial industry

Carl Reed
Executive Director, Chief Technology Officer
Open Geospatial Consortium, usa
Email: [email protected]

For more than ten years, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) membership has been collaborating on the definition, documentation, and implementation of open standards that enable interoperability of geospatial content and services. These standards allow not just GIS or geospatial data and services to “click together” in a plug and play fashion, but also integration of geospatial data and services into larger information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructures and applications. OGC’s 14 approved specifications (as I write) are implemented in hundreds of products and applications from organizations all over the world. Despite this success, there continue to be some misunderstandings about the work of OGC. In particular, potential users wonder how and when OGC standards should be used, what “open” and “interoperable” mean in the context of these standards, and what role OGC plays in the marketplace.

The OGC changed its name last year to the “Open Geospatial Consortium” from the “Open GIS Consortium.” There were many reasons for the name change including clarifying the scope of work of the organization. As the leading voluntary consensus standards organization addressing interoperability for geospatial technologies, OGC acknowledges its roots in geographic information systems (GIS). At the same time, OGC is now responding to the broader geospatial interoperability needs of business, government, academic, and consumer users to rapidly exploit and benefit from geospatial content and services available today and into the future.

What does OGC mean by “open” or by an “open system”? The adjective “open” is used extensively in the ICT industry – including the in the geospatial industry. Unfortunately, the term is very seldom defined. The OGC uses the term open in very much the same way as the Open Source Initiative does.

The OGC and its members firmly believe that all of the standards and specifications created by the OGC member consensus process must be:

  • Freely and publicly available: All of the OGC specifications must be available free of charge (no royalties) and unencumbered by patents and other intellectual property.
  • Non discriminatory: Available to any one, any organization, any time, any where with no restrictions.
  • No license fees: There are no charges, at any time, for the use of OGC specifications.
  • Vendor neutral: OGC specifications do not favor any vendor over another. They are vendor neutral in terms of their content and implementation concept (Fig. 1).

    Fig 1 All industry players compete on a level field

  • Data neutral: OGC Specifications are independent of any data storage model or format.
  • Agreed to by a formal, member based consensus process: A formal, member-driven consensus process defines, documents, and approves all OGC specifications. The OGC Technical Committee Polices and Procedures document all aspects of the formal consensus process.